As anyone who’s ever been tempted to ragequit the internet (cc: everybody you know and everybody we know) will tell you, there’s a delicate balance between expressing oneself freely and behaving like a heinous fuckwit.
Twitter are well aware of this phenomenon, and today, one of the social network’s top executives wrote a piece for the Washington Post, announcing an overhaul of safety policy in an attempt to tackle this problem.
General counsel Vijaya Gadde said that, while Twitter welcomes and is designed for diverse perspectives, abusive behaviour and harassment are rife, and its response, thus far, has been far from adequate.
In making these changes, Twitter has expanded its definition of “abuse”, to more fully recognise “the scope and extent of harm inflicted by abusive behaviour”, and include indirect threats of violence.
“Even when we have recognised that harassment is taking place, our response times have been inexcusably slow and the substance of our responses too meager. This is, to put it mildly, not good enough,” Gadde said.
“Freedom of expression means little as our underlying philosophy if we continue to allow voices to be silenced because they are afraid to speak up,” she continued. “We need to do a better job combating abuse without chilling or silencing speech.”
What does this actually mean for you, the average Twitter user, who just wants to go about your internet business and not be subjected to torrents of hateful bullshit on the regular?
For that matter, what does it mean for public figures like Sue Perkins, the British TV presenter who just this week was forced off Twitter by abuse after erroneous reports that she would be taking over for fired Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson?
As a first step, the service will be cracking down on “anonymously created Twitter accounts” which exist purely to “intimidate or silence targeted people.”
They haven’t specified how this will happen, because you can’t give all the good stuff away, but it will be happening in “some ways that won’t be readily apparent” and others that will.
In short, if your avatar is an egg, and your account’s sole purpose is to Tweet hateful, grammatically questionable jabs at Guardian columnists or your ex, your days might be numbered.
Twitter has also beefed up the size of the team who tackle abuse, tripling the number of employees who respond to complaints, resulting, they claim, in a “five-fold increase” in the speed with which they are resolved.
“We are also overhauling our safety policies to give our teams a better framework from which to protect vulnerable users,” Gadde said.
While Twitter can’t magically stop people from behaving like dickheads, or instill in them a basic amount of respect for their fellow humans, these new policies seem like a good start.
Photo: Bethany Clarke via Getty Images